Making the Switch from JPG to RAW

Introduction

If you’re looking for a debate between RAW and JPG, you’re not going to find it here.  We at Post acknowledge that both RAW and JPG have their place, and it’s up to the photographer to decide which makes sense for them.  Instead, let’s assume that you have made the decision to switch to RAW.  Great, but now what?

Unfortunately, it’s not just a matter of switching the output setting on your camera; RAW files require a very different workflow and mindset.  Once your camera is outputting RAW files, you need to know how to work with them, and you need the proper tools to do so.  We’ll help you get you started.

Ease Into It

For your first few shoots with RAW, you may want a safety net.  Set your camera to shoot both JPG and RAW at the same time.  Though this will take up more space on your memory cards, it allows you the flexibility after the shoot to experiment with RAW while still having good, old JPGs as backup.

New File Type, New Mindset

If you’re used to working with JPGs, you’re familiar with the concept of opening a JPG image, editing it, and perhaps saving it as a new file.  This results in two JPG files of about the same size: the original and the edited version.  RAW works differently, and though the new way of doing things will seem odd, we think you’ll come to appreciate the built-in flexibility.

With RAW, the original file always stays untouched (the software actually prevents you from changing it).  You won’t make edited copies of RAW files either.  The key difference is that any edits you make to your RAW file are stored as text instructions.  Think of these instructions as a text document which reads “bump up contrast by 3, increase exposure by 1/3, rotate by 10 degrees, etc.”  It keeps track of all your slider adjustments as you play with the image.

These instructions can either be stored in the editing software itself or exported as separate files called XMPs.  Because the instructions – or XMP files – are just text, they take up very little hard drive space.  They can also be modified as often as needed without any loss of image quality.

So, the RAW editing process actually results in two pieces: the original RAW image file and the XMP (instructions) file.  Combine the two together, and you can see your edited images.  From there you can export them as JPGs which can be sent to your printer, hosting site, or clients.

This might sound complicated at first, but it’s really just a matter of getting use to it.  As you’ll see in the next section, there is software which simplifies the process.

Tools of the RAW Trade

RAW files are less widely supported than JPGs, so it’s likely that you’ll need to invest in new software in order to view your new RAW files.  Windows, for example, does not have the built-in ability to display RAW files.  Mac OS X will let you preview them, but you’ll still want something made for editing RAW.

At Post, we use Adobe Lightroom which has quickly become the industry standard for editing and managing large amounts of images (regardless of file type).  While Photoshop remains ideal for detailed editing of one or two images, Lightroom allows you to quickly organize and manipulate an entire shoot’s worth of images.  It’s a must have for professional photographers, no matter what you shoot.  And with how much it can do, Lightroom might be the only software you need.

 

RAW Workflow Examples

You now have a general understanding of how RAW & XMP files work, and you’ve hopefully decided to pick up a copy of Lightroom.  Now, let’s go over some example workflows to put this all together.  We’ll keep things at a high level; if you need help with specific Lightroom functions, a quick Google search can give you what you need.

Workflow Example 1 – Outsource post-production

This first example shows a hands-off photographer who trusts Post to handle all her post-production tasks.  Note that she has Post convert the edited images to JPG, so she really doesn’t get involved with RAW and XMP files.

    1. Shoot the event in RAW.
    2. Download and backup the files from the memory cards.
    3. Send the RAW files to Post for editing and JPG conversion.
    4. Receive edited JPG files back from Post.
    5. Print, upload, or deliver the JPG images to the clients.

Workflow Example 2 – Outsource post-production, but perform your own image selection

Similar to the first example, but this photographer wants to choose the keepers herself and send only those to Post for post-production.

    1. Shoot the event in RAW.
    2. Download and backup the files from the memory cards.
    3. Select the keepers in Lightroom.
    4. Export the keepers in their original format (RAW) to a new folder.
    5. Send the RAW keeper files to Post  for editing and JPG conversion.
    6. Receive edited JPG files back from Post.
    7. Print, upload, or deliver the JPG images to the clients. 

Workflow Example 3 – Outsource post-production, but receive XMPs back

This time, the photographer wants to receive XMP files from Post instead of JPGs.  This may be because she wants the flexibility to continue editing, or she wants to convert to JPG herself.

    1. Shoot the event in RAW.
    2. Download and backup the files from the memory cards.
    3. Send the RAW files to Post for editing.
    4. Receive XMPs (small, instructions files) back from Post.
    5. Copy the XMPs into the folder with the original RAW files.
    6. Import the RAW and XMP files into Lightroom.
    7. Continue editing images, or export them as JPG files.
    8. Print, upload, or deliver the JPG images to the clients. 

Workflow Example 4 – Outsource post-production, but receive a Lightroom Catalog back

Receiving a Lightroom catalog shares many of the benefits of receiving XMPs.

    1. Shoot the event in RAW.
    2. Download and backup the files from the memory cards.
    3. Send the RAW files to Post for editing.
    4. Receive a Lightroom catalog back from Post.
    5. Open the catalog and link it to the original image files.
    6. Continue editing images, or export them as JPG files.
    7. Print, upload, or deliver the JPG images to the clients. 

Workflow Example 5 – Perform your own post-production

This example photographer prefers to do all the post-production work on her own.

    1. Shoot the event in RAW.
    2. Download and backup the files from the memory cards.
    3. Import the RAW files into Lightroom.
    4. Select the keepers.
    5. Color-correct, crop, straighten, sharpen, tone, etc.
    6. Export the images as JPG files.
    7. Print, upload, or deliver the JPG images to the clients.

Conclusion

Switching to any new workflow can seem complex at first.  Don’t expect to become a RAW expert overnight.  If you’re patient, however, and are willing to read help documents and do the occasional Google search, your efforts will pay off in better images, increased flexibility, and a better understanding of photography.  Good luck, and welcome to the world of RAW!

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